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Spotsylvania votes to allow more backyard hens

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More Spotsylvania County residents can now raise chickens in their backyards.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a proposal to allow pet hens in many residential areas countywide.

Residents must receive a local $35 permit for the chickens, which have to be kept in backyard coops at least 10 feet from property lines and 35 feet from next-door homes. Roosters are prohibited.

The Planning Commission in February recommended approval of the ordinance.

Tuesday’s vote comes almost six months after then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wrote that the county overstepped its bounds by permitting pet chickens in some voting districts but prohibiting them in others.

Cuccinelli, who wrote the opinion at the request of Spotsylvania’s county attorney, was referring to an ordinance approved early last year that allowed backyard hens in four of the county’s seven voting districts. Supervisors in the Battlefield, Berkeley and Lee Hill districts had asked that the ordinance not apply to their districts.

Two of those opposing board members left office at the end of 2013. Their successors, Battlefield District Supervisor Chris Yakabouski and Berkeley District Supervisor Greg Cebula, supported allowing backyard chickens countywide.

Lee Hill District Supervisor Gary Skinner, who opposed the initial ordinance, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

A person can have two to six chickens under the new ordinance. Supervisor Paul Trampe assured residents that the ordinance wouldn’t spur egg businesses in neighborhoods.

“While I’m sure that those who keep domestic chickens give eggs to their friends … we’re not talking about … agricultural businesses, we’re talking about pets,” he said.

In the past, only people who lived on agricultural or rural lots of at least 5 acres could raise chickens. The ordinance doesn’t change anything for those residents, who can have as many chickens as they want without a permit.

Many homeowners associations already restrict chickens, and local ordinances do not override those rules. At least one Spotsylvania resident, however, did convince her HOA to make an exception last year.

Spotsylvania has issued eight permits for backyard chickens since the initial ordinance was approved in February 2013. The county did receive an inquiry from someone whose voting district prohibited the chickens.

The Zoning Office hasn’t received any complaints about legal chicken owners, though it has received three complaints about roosters and another three about residents who were keeping chickens without the required permit.

Chicken ownership has become increasingly popular in recent years. The city of Fredericksburg in 2012 adopted an ordinance that lets residents keep up to four chickens.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402